By a Newsnet reporter 

Broadcaster James Naughtie, who is set to present the BBC’s coverage of Scotland’s independence referendum, has attracted criticism after describing shops on the Scottish capital’s main thoroughfare as “cheap and mostly nasty”.

Suggesting Edinburgh “didn’t deserve” its festival, the presenter also had strong criticism for the city’s Waverley Station which is currently undergoing refurbishment.

After arguing that the city deserved a “civilised” central railway station, he added:

“Just enough of the long-overdue refurbishment has been completed to allow a glimpse of how it might be and [visitors] will be directed through a building site to the street.  The only consolation is that last year’s festival gave them practice for the obstacle course that is still in place.”

However the harshest words were reserved for Princes Street, which Mr Naughtie dismissed as a “jumble” of shopfronts:

“Historically-minded visitors will gaze along Princes Street trying to remember when it had some style and a little grace. That was long ago, before its façade was ripped apart and reassembled in a jumble of cheap and mostly nasty shopfronts unworthy of their place at the heart of one of Europe’s great cities.”

The overdue, over-budget Edinburgh tram system – imposed on the city by an alliance of Unionist parties at Holyrood – came in for heavy criticism, being described as “Europe’s most embarrassing public transport project”.

Mr Naughtie, described by the Guardian newspaper as a “freethinking Scots intellectual” who “prefers the muddle of the union to the clinical solitude of independence”, made the remarks in an article in the BBC listings publication, Radio Times.

The BBC presenter had praise for what the Festival has done for the city, but wondered whether the city deserved it.

“Down the years [the festival] has graced the city, refreshed its cultural bloodstream, and brought the world to Edinburgh. Sometime, it would be nice to think, the city might repay the compliment in style.”

Edinburgh Council and Network Rail, responsible for Waverly Station, were surprised and angered by Mr Naughtie’s opinions of the city. 

A spokesperson for Network Rail explained that the refurbishment to Waverley Station was taking a long time since they had to be carried out without closing down or disrupting train services at one of the busiest stations in the country.

The spokesperson said:

“Naughtie might not be aware that the Waverley refurbishment is being completed for £140 million, but has been carried out without closing a station that handles 25 million passengers a year. That’s why it takes so long.”

City leader Andrew Burns said: “Visitor numbers look set to outstrip previous years, which I think tells its own story.”


2013-08-15 07:15

Eh, he described the shops on Prince’s Street as cheap and nasty, not Edinburgh. And they are. Most Edinburgers would agree.

There’s enough to criticise about Naughtie, without resorting to misleading headlines. Don’t sink to The Scotsman’s level.

[Admin – We accept the criticism that was levelled at the original headline. It misrepresented Mr Naughtie’s actual words.]
2013-08-15 20:22

I didn’t see the original headline so can’t really comment, but well done Newsnet for admitting you got it wrong.

I visit Edinburgh now and again and love the feel of the city, but have to agree with Mr Naughtie’s description of Princes Street. The station criticism is a tad unfair though.

On the trams, it’s just a pity that he didn’t pipe up when the project was being railroaded (pun intended) through the Scottish Parliament in 2007 by the group that now calls itself Better Together.

That politically motivated stunt alone should have left Labour unelectable for years as the media tore into the shower. But we all know that the pro-Union media got behind the attempt to destabilise the fledgling SNP government and the rest is now history.
2013-08-15 20:32

Not a fan of the BBC by any means I’m afraid James Naughtie is spot on.

I’ve posted often on how poor Waverly and Haymarket were compared the TWO London Eurorail Stations which were both refurbished to the highest spec.

I walked through Waverly for the first time in years a month or so back and found newly laid tiles were missing in large patches. Apart from the glass top over the new elevator ‘improvements’ were all very ordinary or non existent.

Anyone who has been anywhere in the world KNOWS Princess St is a shambles and there is so much tat there and in the Royal Mile it’s embarrassing.

George St is ‘streets’ ahead but if you go to most Middle East countries their major shopping streets and Malls are world class.

We have world class buildings e.g. the Dome in George St but no world class Malls.

I’m with weegie38 on this one.

VOTE YES in 399 Days
2013-08-15 21:46

Money’s no problem when it comes to refurbishing mainline Railway Stations in London to a ‘civilised standard’ it would appear. Over one billion pounds to redevelop St Pancras and Kings Cross Stations.

‘Better Together’, Mr Naughtie? I don’t think so.

Andrew Neil tried the same caper 20 years ago, coming up to Edinburgh with his cosy Metropolitan elitist mind-set and telling us how we should be running our City.

Make the most of it down there Jim. When the oil revenue tap is turned off post independence London will have to draw in her horns.
2013-08-15 22:08

Apart from the bad design of a couple of new large shops on Princes St, and the level of lighting from those and the tram lighting which spoils the night view of the castle etc, Princes St is like any other high street.

Why is Naughtie intent on being so negative about our capital city without balancing his own opinions with what is also a fantastic city in which to live with it’s green spaces, beautiful views and it’s mostly tolerant and trouble free with so many tourists around during the festival.

Waverley is a good working train station, it’s a disgrace that the ‘better together’ lot made the massively stupid decision to carry on with the trams going nowhere. Hopefully we will attract more small businesses with Independence, to enhance the shopping streets of all Scottish cities.
2013-08-15 22:50

“Broadcaster James Naughtie, who is set to present the BBC’s coverage of Scotland’s independence referendum”

As I recall Kirsty Wark came out with something about ‘staring into the abyss’ at the last referendum. Hope history repeats.
2013-08-16 00:17

Disparaging remarks were made about Edinburgh earlier this year, suggesting, I believe, that it isn’t fit to be the capital city of an independent country. The agenda is the same, no matter what angle they come from. Drip, drip, drip. Negative, negative, negative. Generation after generation. Can you imagine a Scottish capital with the sort of money that London has been provided with at our expense. Hopefully after next year we won’t have to imagine, we can make it a reality.
Marga B
2013-08-16 11:08

Seen from Spain, Kenneth, I have to agree with you.

Madrid is now a wonderful and showy city, but a recent visit from a great-hearted but rather tired and dusty Barcelona made my blood boil.

The reality is a political decision about where the money is spent, but then the same elite who allocated that money take a trip to the “provinces” and pour scorn on the people who have loyally (or by compulsion) parted with millions to beautify and equip the capital.

There’s definitely other factors of course, like poor municipal management, but money is at the heart of it.

So Naughtie is right, but it’s not as simple as that as he should know, and as the independence moderator of the BBC, his words as quoted, for me portray a person not fit for the purpose.

2013-08-16 01:54

Given James Naughtie’s already partial view on the referendum – there’s no way I would be classed as a fan of his – but, his comments re Princess Street are totally spot-on – it’s an embarrassment to the capital of Scotland and I’ve been in many countries which are undoubtedly much better at achieving major project builds than what shambles created here tells us.

The whole tram issue is an abomination, pushed through by non-accountable nobodies and it has ruined Princess Street, to no great gain, if any. The Scottish Parliament ended up built at a cost almost 10 times over budget!

Scotland on it’s own, would be in control of the fiscal levers and the money streams that have galloped way beyond decent by the crass off-hand London-centric control will not be suffered again. PFI being just the manic writing on the wasteful cake that is their sole sorry legacy.

Am I dreaming – I doubt it very much!
2013-08-16 07:55

Agree with the critique of Edinburgh’s scruffiness. The Ugly St James centre, the intrusive victorian mess of Waverley station, the tram fiasco, the banality of the main thoroughfare etc. are blights on a relatively small city with a second to none landscape. However London is also quite scruffy and polluted Mr Naughtie, has a rather dreary skyline and is a transport nightmare. The Champs Élysées in Paris isn’t exactly chic. So all cities have there aesthetic faults. Anyway enjoy the muddle of the Union James, for as long as it lasts, and remember that Edinburgh’s current state owes much to the system you prefer.
2013-08-16 08:45

” being described as “Europe’s most embarrassing public transport project”.

Actually, embarassing as the tram project no doubt is, it pales in comparison with the Berlin Airport debacle – more than 3 years overdue with no sign of it being ready any time soon, and now costing nearly €4.5Billion, nearly double oroginal estimated cost.
2013-08-16 10:24

Jake – snap! Berlin Airport crossed my mind as well when I read that sentence. For more information, see…/…
Marga B
2013-08-16 11:30

Has nobody been to Spain recently and seen the international airports (plural, i.e. more than one) which have never seen a plane?

One of which has an annual contract worth half a million euros with a company that manages falcons and ferrets for bird and pest control (i.e. there’s more ferrets and falcons than planes).

“Europe’s most embarrassing public transport project” – that’s just Naughtie being provocative, playing to the gallery, which I suppose is his BBC audience.

2013-08-16 09:19

Naughtie is right – Princes street is full of awful shops and looks tired. George Street is much better. The tram debacle is embarrassing and the amount of roadworks really makes Edinburgh look tatty.
2013-08-16 09:23

weegie38 / butehouse / BRL…
The street in question is PRINCES STREET

It is NOT Prince’s St
Nor is it Princess St

Is it too much trouble for you to spell it correctly ?
2013-08-16 10:29

Oh, OK IXL, ‘Princes Street’ it is then.

BTW, which ‘princes’ – and just how many of them is it named after? Looks to me like the name was and is, as messily wrought, as it’s territory has become. No worries about where to stick the apostrophe though, eh? Just not needed, as in St Andrews, to name but one!
2013-08-16 16:43

Who cares which princes ?
Who cares where you stick your apostrophe ?

Just get it right !

2013-08-16 09:48

While not subscribing to Naughtie’s political views his verdict on Princes St. is 100% spot on.

As one who is old enough to remember the street as it wsas in the 50’s and early 60’s there can be no pssible argument against the view that it has been destroyed as a shopping street.

It used to have an array of unique shops characterised by their excellence. Can anybody honestly think of a single shop (since the HoF philistines took over Jenner’s) for which it is worth visiting the street as it is currently?

Years ago the street was busy all day at any time of the year. I made one of my rare visits to the city centre about a month ago and at 11am on a beautiful day it was nearly deserted. In one stretch of pavement about 100 yards long I counted 3 yes 3 people. Why they broadened the pavement God only knows.
2013-08-16 10:57

Some perspective : the tram project was forced through by the Better Together lot in preference to the SNP plan for the £500 million to be spent on dualling the A9; they now bleat about how this should have been done!

SCottish Parliament: all the decisions as to site, architect, design, contractor and building plan were made by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar at Westminster before there were any MSPs.

Two state of the art Eurostar terminals in London; paid for by the oil money.
2013-08-16 11:45

When I was a kid, my home town of around 17,500 was large enough to boast large multi-floored department stores with lifts and escalators. We had all the ‘big’ stores too: M&S;, Boots, Menzies, Woolworths. We also had butchers, bakers, green grocers, fish mongers, clothes shops, sports shops and toy shops.
Then came supermarkets and mortgages.
Now we have mainly charity shops or budget outlets for cheap imported rubbish. Its the same good people trying to make a living, but its a wholly impoverished shopping culture. Then we insult it calling it cheap and nasty, which sadly it too often is, -but wasn’t always that way.
Giving our streets a facelift will change nothing unless we deliberately reverse the ascendency of the homogeneous banality of supermarkets and the culture which supports them. ALL of our traditional trades and skills are being lost or redefined as pale reflections of their former selves. Sooner or later, we notice.
2013-08-16 14:25

Remarkable the power news presenters have acquired. Once we had a presenter talking to the person who was the news, now we have presenters talking to other presenters about what the news means, added to that, as we have found out, what they want it to mean.
call me dave
2013-08-16 17:57

Here’s another presenter:

Responding to Mr Marr’s comments, an SNP spokesperson said: “We are happy to see that Andrew Marr’s health is recovering, but we are disappointed by the picture of Scotland he has painted in his reported comments. It is simply wrong to suggest that aspirations for Scotland to make our own decisions are based on anything other than a desire to build a fairer, more prosperous Scotland. Intolerance of any kind has no place in Scotland and all of us have a duty to stand up to it where it occurs.”…/…

Keith Bale
2013-08-16 16:51

It would be interesting to see a report on the benefits of gaining official capital city status. I imagine it must be pretty substantial: investment from other countries setting up Embassies; more airlines would presumably be attracted to a capital city, bringing additional business and tourism; new Government departments being established. I’m sure there would be many more. How many people had heard of Tallinn, Riga, etc, before the Baltic states gained independence?

I wonder if James Naughtie would accept that a large part of the problem with Edinburgh (and most other UK cities) is lack of investment due to their ‘provincial city’ status.
2013-08-16 18:00

The city centre will improve out of all recognition after Independence. The amount of investment will stagger everyone. At present the City Fathers like so many in recent times have had to accept almost any minimalist architecture for new shops in order to get the money from the rates.

Soon they will be able to dictate high quality materials must be used with new buildings, existing recent buildings will either have to come down or replace cheap windows and add quality cladding.

Everything from the roof to door handles will be replaced by more upmarket materials and design.

Not long now, only 398 days to a YES Vote and a further 18 months to INDEPENDENCE DAY.

VOTE YES in 398 Days
2013-08-19 02:47

‘Mr Naughtie, described by the Guardian newspaper as a “freethinking Scots intellectual” who “prefers the muddle of the union to the clinical solitude of independence…’ Blah-blah-blah.

I never had Naughtie down as any kind of intellectual, let alone a free-thinking one. He “prefers the muddle of the union to the clinical solitude of independence …”

My God, that preference for “the muddle of the union to the clinical solitude of independence” is a pretty poor showing from a so-described intellectual. We know what “the muddle of the union” has brought to Scotland, but “clinical solitude”? What the hell does that mean?

If ever there was a truckload of tripe, that says it all about him. Comfy in his sycophantic southern environment and playing the Scotch lackey for the establishment that contributes to his lifestyle is of course his choice. He is New Labour personified. A very perfidious Scot indeed.

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